On my cynical days, I look at the discourse around climate change the same way I look at conspiracy theories and their all-encompassing, one-cause explanation of our misery.
Hold on. Put down the pitchfork. Yes, yes, I know human activities are altering the atmospheric chemistry far, far beyond its natural makeup.
But if I woke up tomorrow and found that the amount of CO2 in our environs wasn't actually contributing to a chain reaction that's frying the planet and threatening to make Vancouver Island an underwater museum, I probably wouldn't approach politics any differently.
The planet is sick from a chronic, ongoing fever resulting from a seriously taxed immune system. Carbon pollution is obviously one of the primary causes.
But there are many others, including, for instance, habitat destruction resulting from just the sort of rampant road construction that would continue if we allowed auto manufacturers to become "sustainable."
Even if all of GM's cars were hybrids, we'd still have tritium releases in our water and heavy metals in our bloodstream. Endocrine disruptors would still course through food chains; babies would still be drinking dioxin-laced breast milk. Even if corporate carbon emissions were zero across the board, acres of rainforest would still be razed and people would still be kept in artificial poverty - forced to rely, ironically, on cheap, third-rate, energy-inefficient technologies.
Sometimes I wonder if global warming has caught the mainstream fancy because a focus on carbon fog reduces the visibility of root causes.
When talk does turn to corporate culpability, it becomes therapy, reassuring corporate knights that all this talk of industrial impact on the environment is not a threat to their fortunes. In fact, they can do better, bigger business if they "go green.'
One purveyor of this sunny entrepreneurial outlook is the chummy guy in the Southern mansion, son of a tobacco scion, Al Gore. Gore himself kind of has a foot in both camps now. An Inconvenient Truth is a great resource, up to a point. But countless others before him have said these things and more, so what made this his moment and not theirs? A rise in public consciousness, paralleling sea levels? Well, yes - plus the fact that he's rich, he's white and he's a he. He's not a threat.
At the end of his film's devastating portrayal of planetary illness, Gore tells us what we can do: buy different light bulbs, buy new furnace filters, keep our cars tuned up. Like Europe's ice age that followed the last period of (natural) warming, such quotidian solutions seem just another form of the problem he's just masterfully delineated.
People should do those things. But market-level solutions (buying better stuff), to the exclusion of all others, trap real change under the green-buying frenzy of middle-class homeowners - in the process deflecting criticism of the role played by an economic system predicated on infinite growth within a finite ecology.
Isn't this why Gore has been canonized? Buy our compact fluorescents, say the corporate interests moving in on the small green biz sector. Or our hybrids. Or any sort of useless, toxic crap we made "carbon neutral' through buying "offsets' on a newfangled stock market. Oh, but for god's sake, keep giving us your money. And your votes. And the best hours of your life. Because without us you are lost.
Thus, those causing the lion's share of damage rebrand themselves as our saviours, and they're using the ecology movement - slowly being limited to the global warming movement - to do it.
Don't get me wrong. It's hard to condemn ecologically sound practices at the corporate level. When Amory Lovins, climate engineer, breezed through town a couple of months ago, he painted an amazing futuristic picture. Through modern carbon-fibre material (ironically), for instance, vehicles can be made radically lighter, factories radically smaller, and overall carbon emissions radically lower, all by a few orders of magnitude.
But Lovins isn't particularly careful about who he designs for. He'd like, for example, to foster "smart procurement' at the military level. U.S. military brass, he argues, might be easiest to convince, because then they wouldn't have to invade countries for oil.
Maybe the military-industrial complex will downsize; or maybe it'll get sleek and eco-friendly - and more deadly.
And that may be the key to corporate talk of energy efficiency: those at the top see the writing on the peak. If they want to keep their hands on the levers when fossil fuels go the way of the dinosaur (or the price of potable water climbs, or available arable soil shrinks, two climatic realities getting less play these days), they need to be innovation's early adopters. Do we really want to sustain those who got us into this mess in the first place? Think they won't screw up again?
The fact that climate change is now making headlines almost daily is good news, but we're still waiting to exhale. So far, things are still poised to go down the well-worn path of treating the symptoms, not the disease.
The alternative is that future generations will look back on our time as the moment when people decided to answer the real question: not how to bring the fever down, but how to become well again.